Thursday, May 11, 2017

Baseball vs. Rainy Days

Mother Nature has finally released us from winter.  The flat faced pansies, the song of the peepers, red and yellow tulips have emerged.  Lush green grass, tiny leaves on tree branches are everywhere I look. The days are finally long enough to begin looking forward to the end of school and dare I say, "warmer weather"?
  But Declan couldn't be more frustrated.  So many soccer practices and baseball games cancelled due to rain, rain and more rain.  When it finally stops raining, the playing fields are so saturated, the powers that be keep the kids off the grass for fear the landscaping will be torn to shreds. 
  Like tonight.  The sun finally came out, warmed the air and created the perfect weather for an evening baseball game.  He packed his bag with sunflower seeds, the baseball player's healthier alternative to chewing tobacco.  After searching through his desk drawers cluttered with the odd birthday party favor, beach finds and pencils worn down beyond use, he found his "baseball" sunglasses that he hasn't needed since last summer.  He scurried around the house gathering his gear, anticipating that the game could possibly finish under the lights, if the innings stretch out that long.  Wait.  Cancelled.  Again.  Declan is devastated.  He longs so much to get out and play.  The tears are barely hidden under the brim of his red and white cap.  Oh, Mother Nature what an eleven year old boy has to go through to swing a bat and shag a few fly balls with his friends!
  I remember back in high school when I was dying to get outside and run around the fields after school instead of my winter time routine of heading home on the bus for another boring afternoon of homework and soap operas.  The chilly spring air stinging my face, my freezing cold, raw, red hands gripping my lacrosse stick.  I didn't care that my entire backside was covered in splashes of mud from running up and down the wet field in my cleats. To finally get outside, run until I was out of breath and laugh with my friends in the fresh air; I never felt the cold on my bare legs.
  I used to trudge through the school day. My only motivation for being there was all the good stuff I got to do afterwards.  Monday through Friday, at lunchtime, I crossed my fingers and looked out the cafeteria windows hoping to see the sun or at least just cloud cover, praying against the rain.  If the weather looked alright to my untrained eye, I was happy and went about eating my lunch, looking forward to slamming my locker shut at dismissal.  But if the announcement belted out on the loudspeaker declared, "ALL OUTDOOR PRATICES CANCELLED FOR TODAY" followed by the response of a collective heavy groan, I was left in a funk.
  Today, I am addicted to the weather app on my phone.  I check the radar hourly, making my own interpretations based on the patterns on the screen, not wanting to rely on the inaccuracy of those weather people who have no idea how to make predictions for Cape Cod.  I constantly put it out to the Universe for heavy rain clouds to drift north or be blown out to sea.  At the very least to provide light rain showers only in the middle of the night so that the kids can get on the fields the next day.  I don't know if this obsession does anyone any good but it comforts me, as if I am somehow doing my part to let Mother Nature know I mean business when it comes to baseball vs. rainy days.

  I'm sure the Falmouth High School cafeteria ladies made this cake year round but I connect the memory of it with springtime.  Yellow cake layered with thick, white frosting, topped with a heavy hand of yellow and orange sprinkles.  It was served in large squares cut from rectangular sheet pans.  I could never get enough of the sugary sweetness and bright colors.  It always made my day when I saw "Sunshine Cake" featured on the menu, especially if rain was in the forecast.  These cupcakes pay homage to that dessert.

Sunshine Cupcakes
makes about 24

2/3 cup butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups 2% milk

1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)
1/2 cup Crisco
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

orange and yellow sprinkles

Bake the Cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla.  In another bowl, whisk flour baking powder and salt.  Add this mixture alternately to butter mixture with milk, beating well after each addition.
Fill prepared cups 3/4 full (just shy of 1/4 cup batter, each).  Bake 15-20 minutes or until a pick inserted comes out clean.  Cool in pans then remove to wire racks to cool completely before frosting.

Make the Frosting:
In a stand mixer, combine butter and Crisco.  Slowly, add powdered sugar, one cup at a time.  Alternately, add one tablespoon of milk.  Add vanilla and salt. Mix well.  If frosting is stiff, add a few drops of milk, if loose, add more powdered sugar, one tablespoon at a time.  Frost cupcakes and top with sprinkles while frosting is still wet.

Cupcakes will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container.

*Cupcake recipe adapted from Taste of Home "Yellow Cupcakes Recipe"

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Just Get it on the Table Season

It's baseball season, spring recital season, everyone get outside because the weather is finally nice and the flowers are blooming after a long and dreary winter season.  There is absolutely no time to cook and sit down to dinner unless you want to eat at 10:00pm.  Which means how the heck will I get everyone fed without making myself absolutely nuts?  I could just eat crackers and cheese, pour myself a glass of wine (counts as a fruit/vegetable, right?) and be done with it.  But my children look at me with their big hungry eyes and rub their growling tummies.  Long before any sane person should even be thinking about an evening meal, it happens every afternoon just as the bus doors close.  As they burst into the house, they yell,  "What's for dinner?"
Short of offering them something prepackaged and microwavable, there is not much I can do unless I want to be cooking dinner at 800pm and washing dishes from 9-10pm.  Everyone knows I like to be in bed far before that snuggling up with the same book I have been trying to get through for the past six months.  Oh the exhaustion of motherhood!  I have reread the same page over and over again, before I drift off to sleep midsentence.
Of course, there is the trusty Crock Pot.  However, my picky eaters don't really like soup or stew.  A meat entrĂ©e usually still needs some starch like mashed potatoes or boiling up a pot of rice and maybe even the addition of a vegetable....I need it to be easier than that.  Even rice takes 30 minutes on the stove top.
In a moment of sheer genius, I placed skinless, boneless chicken thighs and 1/2 a bottle of BBQ sauce in the crockpot and set it on low.  Stopped at the store for sandwich rolls and a bundle of fresh kale.  Yes, that's right.  KALE for children who always complain about what is on the plate.
It's shocking, I know that my picky eaters might even try a kale.  But I tricked them.  I baked kale chips.  Chips sound like junk food, like something forbidden.  So at least they might try it.  Now here they are devouring the whole bowl before I can get a handful for myself.  Even more surprising is that I actually like kale chips.  I have always hated kale, was angry about those "Eat More Kale" t-shirts and bumper stickers.  Yes, I have finally came around to the kale craze.  Late to the party but ready to celebrate.
Especially because kale chips can be made ahead and served at room temperature.  I actually left them on the cookie sheet I used to bake them right on top of the stove.  Crockpot on low with the BBQ chicken inside.  Now I feel like super mom.  Now, I am ready to watch a  two plus hour little league game and know that I can crawl into bed to try and read, uninterrupted by whining and complaining while my people devour their dinner.

Easiest BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
makes about 8 sandwiches

1 package boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1.5-2 pounds)
8 ounces BBQ sauce of your choice (I use Stubb's)
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water
8 sandwich or ciabatta rolls
8 slices deli cheddar cheese

Spray inside of Crock Pot with cooking spray.  Place chicken in a single layer inside Crock Pot.  Pour BBQ sauce over chicken.  Make a slurry out of cornstarch and cold water by mixing both together until smooth.  Add to BBQ sauce and swirl to combine.  Cover Crock Pot and cook on low for approximately 5 hours.  Once cooked, shred chicken and stir back into sauce.  Serve on toasted rolls or ciabatta bread.  Top with melted cheese, if desired.

Ridiculous Kale Chips

1 bunch of kale, washed and dried
cooking spray
garlic powder.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray 2 cookie sheets with cooking spray.  Remove kale leaves from stems and rip into small pieces about 2"-3" long.  Scatter kale pieces in one layer over the cookie sheets.  Spray kale leaves with cooking spray.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Bake kale for 15-20 minutes until crisp and dark green and slightly browned on edges.  Serve immediately or leave out for people to snack on.  Great with cocktails!!